Following a work-related injury aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, a former employee successfully sued the company for negligence, unseaworthiness, failure to provide maintenance and cure, failure to treat, retaliatory discharge and breach of contract. She won $20.3 million in a jury verdict in the 11th Judicial Circuit court in Miami-Dade County. It’s likely Royal Caribbean will appeal the damage award, but the case is noteworthy not just for the amount of compensation but for the fact that this was an employee who successfully sued a former employer for work-related injuries.
The injury in question occurred while the vessel was in international waters (Spain’s, specifically). Plaintiff is a citizen of New Zealand. Royal Caribbean, though, is a U.S. corporation with headquarters based in Florida, so the 11th Circuit had jurisdiction. Normally in Florida worker injury cases, any employee would be required to pursue the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation, as outlined by F.S. 440.01-440.60. This exclusive remedy is part of the “grand bargain” between employers and workers. Employees injured in the course and scope of employment don’t need to prove the employer was negligent to obtain no-fault benefits for medical expenses, a portion of lost wages (and some others), but in turn they cannot sue their employer for negligence. They also aren’t entitled to pursue damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish or loss of consortium.
So what makes this case different? It happened on a boat. More specifically, the incident falls under The Jones Act. Among other things, The Jones Act allows sailors and other crew members the right to seek damages from the crew, captain or ship owner in the event of injury. Employees of cruise lines injured while the ship is at sea may not be subject to the same workers’ compensation laws as those who are injured on land.
In this case, according to The Miami Herald, plaintiff worked as a revenue and marketing manager on the ship. While the ship was in port, crew members were conducting a routine fire safety drill. As part of this, some of the ship’s semi-water tight doors (strong doors intended to keep the ship from flooding) are shut. A nurse aboard the ship didn’t realize the drill was underway and attempted to open one of the doors by its handle. Plaintiff was on the other side of that door. When the nurse tried to come through, she fell. Plaintiff lunged forward to catch her and put her hand on the door to keep it open. The door shut quickly, closing plaintiff’s hand in a space that was only large enough for a pencil. Those standing nearby called for the captain disable the doors, but until that actually happened, plaintiff’s hand was sucked into that door pocket three additional times.
Her fingers were broken. Nails were ripped from the cuticle. She was then referred to a physician in Barcelona who failed to properly diagnose her condition, splinted the fingers incorrectly and caused additional damage. She had to undergo extensive physical therapy. She was paid $25-a-day for disability by her employer. Later, she was diagnosed with chronic pain syndrome, PTSD and is unable to move the fingers in her right hand properly. She was then fired by the company because, she was told, she could no longer perform the clerical functions required of the job.
In her Florida injury lawsuit, she alleged the cruise line was negligent in failing to train its staff and crew. Further, she cited a dozen other incidents wherein crew members suffered hand injuries as a result of being caught in these doors.
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Spearman v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD., 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade
More Blog Entries:
Disney Injury Lawsuit Alleges Slip-and-Fall at Restaurant Entrance, Feb. 28, 2018, Orlando Cruise Injury Attorney Blog